By Yaya Ademola
AT a period when countries of the world, including Africa, are making in-roads into the Information Age and its scientific innovations, we in Nigeria are not only receding, we are moving into the Neolithic Age very fast, grappling with cattle-rearing methodology and, for not knowing how best, harvesting assorted criminalities including kidnapping for ransom, rape, killings, banditry, etc, which now pose acute security challenges approximating a threat to Nigeria unity and corporate existence.
For over a decade, there had been cries over cattle rustling, which had become a major crime business alongside banditry. The marauding Boko Haram militants’ attacks include theft of huge number of cows, killings of herders and other people and wanton destruction of property in virtually all the states in the North, especially in places like Benue, Zamfara, Nassarawa and Plateau states, among others, with slow response from government and security agencies. According to Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria, about 7,000 cattle were rustled between October 2013 and March 2014 alone. Not only that, the rustlers would first rape women, maim and kill herders and destroy property before escaping with the cows. As recent as January 2019 alone, an estimated 371 people were reportedly killed by cattle rustlers in Zamfara State alone! Based on the failure of security apparatuses to perform, the cattle owners had to resort to self help of arming their herders with lethal weapons like AK47 rifles for protecting themselves and their cattle. All these were basic realities limited to Northern Nigeria alone as at then.
Fulani herdsmen have been gravitating towards South, not solely because greener pastures and water could be gotten to feed their cows but to escape the above realities. It is instructive to state that Fulani with their cattle had always lived peacefully with their host communities in Southern Nigeria with some confirmed inter-marriages. The current insecurity challenges are basically with the invading armed, under-aged, adult herders with AK47 in an environment where kidnapping for ransom, banditry among other criminalities have already become flourishing business, with government inaction and incompetence to protecting lives and property. Poor, uneducated herders armed with such lethal weapons inevitably become susceptible to criminal activities to better their lots, especially if they secure local accomplices. Little wonder that both Fulani herders and non-Fulanis masquerading as Fulanis have severally been arrested in cases of kidnapping, rape, killing for ransom in Southern forests.
Under such circumstances, what is expected of a responsive democratic government is to proffer lasting solutions to these problems which are the essence of its existence in the first instance – protection of lives and property. Having slumbered for so long while hundreds of thousands of people paid ransoms, are raped and kidnapped daily as a booming prevalent business, the Presidency woke up and decreed that every state should adopt RUGA. Ruga is a Fulani word for human settlement which also has an acronym “rural grazing area”. The RUGA idea was viewed by other sections with suspicion – as a disguise by Fulani to conquer the entire Nigeria, which has credence to the extent of the largely unresolved national question by successive governments and the incumbent President being of Fulani extraction; and the history of the early 19th Century where Fulani leader, Usman dan Fodio, launched a holy war that conquered the Hausa city-states with subsequent Fulani hegemony all over Northern Nigeria with Fulani Emirs replacing Hausa kings, and a resolve to so conquer all the way to the sea. The RUGA idea was stillbirth.
Before degeneration into full-blown criminalities in the bushes, the main problem had been Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes as a result of destruction of farmlands and food crops. In the course of the conflicts, herdsmen would attack the farmers with lethal weapons, rape women, destroy the farm, raze villages and follow with savage killings. With such continual scenario unchecked by government and security agencies, people are bound to rise up to defend their farmland and means of livelihood. After all, there is Sambisa among other such forests in the North also with four out of the eight river basin development authorities sited in the North – Benue, Hadejia-Chad, Sokoto-Rima and Niger – with enough food and water for cattle rearing. Hence, it is not surprising that amidst lack of creative imagination and modern solution by all levels of government and authorities, a Sunday Igboho and many more will emerge as arrowheads to lead the fight in liberating their people from the deadly Fulani invaders. In this January 2021 alone, an estimated 255 and 258 people have been killed and kidnapped for ransom respectively across the land.
Meanwhile, there is sustainable modern cattle rearing practise – Ranching. Ranching is a system of operating a large farm specially for raising cattle, sheep or horse. It is not new to us. It predates Nigeria’s Independence with a start in Northern Nigeria in 1914. The target of the ranch was to build agro-pastoral settlement that would meet the minimum of 45 grams of mutton per cattle a day to boost the supply of meat, milk and butter to Europe and other West Africa countries. The ranch, however, collapsed. Why? The traditional Fulani herdsmen were not encouraged to embrace commercial, more profitable ranch system as a far better option to open grazing by their elites who profit from the nomadic lifestyle so as to stunt human capital development in the North, making their people easy to manipulate and “govern.”
The common herders themselves have untenable misgiving that ranching will be too expensive to be profitable; that the fenced pastoral environment is inadequate in terms of food to raise their cows; that restriction of the cows could cause diseases as exercises would be limited; seeing extension officers as inexperienced intruders with nothing to offer among others. Their perception of open grazing against ranch is nothing other than justification of ignorance.
Stakeholders and investors in agro-business with the support of the State Government could invest in ranches where herders will either bring their cattle like day-schooling or bring them for boarding like boarding school with affordable fee. Where ranch is located, with value chain in livestock business, it will spring up dairy and skin markets, abattoirs, good roads, water supply, vet and health centres, schools, farmers’ settlements which will foster national unity with indigenous communities that will promote national integration and translate to rapid growth and development with bountiful harvest for crop and pastoral farmers and herdsmen; it will improve small-scale cattle herders’ livelihoods, especially via dairy production; it will boost meat production with consequent greater gains for the herders, especially at export level, having satisfied local demands, with rippling effect of foreign earnings for the government; and eventually bring peace to the crop farmers and herdsmen. More crucially, it will create condition that is favourable to formal education for the children of the herders and transformation of subsequent generation. Perhaps, this last benefit is the deep-seated fear that has prevented ranching for ages.
To finally tackle professional criminals hiding in the bush/forest – kidnappers, rapists, bandits – governments, across board, must create enabling environment that will first guarantee decent livelihood for commoners, along with social protection programmes that will take the mass of the people out of poverty. For this to happen with ease and on a win-win situation for the elites and the people, there is no running away from restructuring Nigeria to genuine federalism. How soon, how late depends on us all.